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Driverless “shuttles” will ply on Heathrow airport as part of TRL-led GATEway project

Published: February 01, 2016 | London

The first driverless cars to be tested on the streets of London will resemble the electric passenger shuttles currently in use at Heathrow Airport.

Three British companies are working in collaboration to develop these iconic automated pods for public trials this summer. Using entirely British engineering and software capabilities, Westfield Sportscars, Heathrow Enterprises and Oxbotica will develop pods capable of operating fully autonomously and safely on the streets of London, as part of the GATEway driverless car project taking place in the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

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Heathrow Enterprises will be responsible for vehicle software engineering, while Oxbotica will be deploying its vertically integrated autonomy solution, which includes mapping, localisation, perception and trajectory planning, to enable the safe operation of fully driverless shuttles in Greenwich.  It will also implement an innovative cloud-based shuttle management system, enabling the shuttles to operate as part of a synchronised, self-governing ecosystem, complete with smartphone booking applications, monitoring and reporting.

Routes have not yet been finalised, but it is thought the cars will run on pavements through residential areas and pass by North Greenwich tube station and the O2 arena. Operating at Terminal 5 for nearly five years, these pods have already carried 1.5m passengers and completed 3m kilometres of fully automated operation. Led by Westfield Sportcars, these pods will now be adapted to navigate the streets of Greenwich without the need for dedicated tracks.

Other trials taking place in Greenwich as part of the Gateway the project will include autonomous valet parking and deliveries. The driverless delivery vans will be used to move parcels between either warehouses and shops or stores and homes in south east London.

While there will be no driver in the vehicles, an operator will sit within the van – which could be as big as a classic Mercedes Sprinter – to ensure the operation runs smoothly and to take control in the case of an emergency. 

The GATEway project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) is an £8 million project jointly funded by Innovate UK and industry. Led by TRL, which has over 50 years’ of experience in vehicle automation, the project will investigate public perception, reaction and engagement with a range of different types of automated vehicles. 

The shuttle trial, which is one of three automated vehicle tests within the GATEway project, will investigate public acceptance of automated shuttle vehicles within the urban mobility landscape. Other trials set to take place in the project include autonomous valet parking and automated deliveries.

In Europe, Switzerland is set to introduce nine-seater autonomous busses this year and driverless shuttles have already been tested on public roads in the Netherlands. Greenwich is one of four areas in the UK where driverless vehicles are due to be trialled. Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes will also carry out trials later this year.

 Source: TRL

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